A great weight lifts from Rukia's chest the moment she steps into Ichigo's household. It's like a breath of fresh air after months spent living underground. Here, she does not have to pretend.
Here, there are no expectations to be met. Here, she is neither Captain nor Kuchiki nor even Shinigami. Here, she is only Rukia, among friends.
Come to think of it, she is no longer a Kuchiki either. She tends to forget her change of her new name in a way she could never forget the adoption of her first one.
It was fraught with too much heartache and anxiety to be let go of that easily.
But Renji is by her side now and, thanks in part to Kurosaki, won't ever leave -- or let her leave again.
He squeezes her shoulder when the others greet them and urge them to sit, as if allaying the disquiet that has become part and parcel of her daily life.
She puts her hand on top of his and smiles up at him, unburdened for the first time in a long while. Renji relaxes.
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